Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Books About Calvin: 3

Part 3. Scholarly works on John Calvin. These books are fairly in-depth, and many have a lot of footnotes or endnotes.

1. William J. Bouwsma: John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York, Oxford University Press, 1988) : A scholarly study of Calvin by the Sather Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, this is an extremely accomplished tour de force study of Calvin’s life and teaching. Rather than taking a strict chronological approach, Bouwsma takes a more thematic view of Calvin's life and thought. Those who agree with Calvin theologically will find things they disagree with, but this is a well-researched book. Available from Amazon.

2. Alister E. McGrath: A Life of John Calvin (Oxford, Blackwell, 1990). A modern scholarly biography by an Oxford Don, McGrath’s work is an in-depth examination of Calvin’s life by an evangelical Anglican scholar. McGrath treats Calvin in his historical context, and gives a readable and engrossing book. I debated where to put this, but decided that it belongs in the 'scholarly' category. He does not shy away from difficult issues. This book distils the results of 20th century Calvin scholarship. Available from Amazon.

3. Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (Reprint, Bibliobazzar, 2009). I am really excited by the reprint of this classic 1914 biography of John Calvin. I possess a first edition of it, and I ahve found it extremely useful. Its original release was overshadowed by the First World War, and it has not received the recognition that it deserves. This 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth is a perfect time for this book to be re-issued. It is a work that impresses by its level of scholarship and the author’s evident familiarity with the original source documents, which he draws on with masterly skill. Reyburn’s own theology is rather liberal, but he does not let theological disagreement colour his assessment of Calvin. T.H.L. Parker wrote of this book: “Reyburn’s book has been unjustly neglected; no doubt it suffered from being published in the year that the Great War broke out. Reyburn made good use of the original sources and quotes liberally from them.” (John Calvin P. viii) Available from Amazon.

4. Herman J. Selderhuis: John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life (IVP, 2009). This latest biography of John Calvin by an accomplished Dutch historian is a real treat for the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. Each chapter is entitled for an aspect of Calvin's life, a character that Calvin bore, such as 'Orphan', 'Pilgrim', 'Stranger' and 'Refugee'. The subtitle says it all, this is Calvin as a man of suffering. Excellent. Available from Amazon.

Next time: Specialist studies.

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